1st Edition

Women’s Economic Thought in the Romantic Age Towards a Transdisciplinary Herstory of Economic Thought

By Joanna Rostek Copyright 2021
    310 Pages 2 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    310 Pages 2 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book examines the writings of seven English women economists from the period 1735–1811. It reveals that contrary to what standard accounts of the history of economic thought suggest, eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century women intellectuals were undertaking incisive and gender-sensitive analyses of the economy.

    Women’s Economic Thought in the Romantic Age argues that established notions of what constitutes economic enquiry, topics, and genres of writing have for centuries marginalised the perspectives and experiences of women and obscured the knowledge they recorded in novels, memoirs, or pamphlets. This has led to an underrepresentation of women in the canon of economic theory. Using insights from literary studies, cultural studies, gender studies, and feminist economics, the book develops a transdisciplinary methodology that redresses this imbalance and problematises the distinction between literary and economic texts. In its in-depth readings of selected writings by Sarah Chapone, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Hays, Mary Robinson, Priscilla Wakefield, Mary Ann Radcliffe, and Jane Austen, this book uncovers the originality and topicality of their insights on the economics of marriage, women and paid work, and moral economics.

    Combining historical analysis with conceptual revision, Women’s Economic Thought in the Romantic Age retrieves women’s overlooked intellectual contributions and radically breaks down the barriers between literature and economics. It will be of interest to researchers and students from across the humanities and social sciences, in particular the history of economic thought, English literary and cultural studies, gender studies, economics, eighteenth-century and Romantic studies, social history, and the history of ideas.

    List of illustrations xi

    Acknowledgments xii

    1. Introduction 1

    PART I

    A transdisciplinary methodology for a herstory of economic thought 17

    2. Women and scholarship: the cultural forms of knowledge formation 19

    Scholarship as a cultural and gendered practice 19

    Women and the history of thought: Lost-Gems approach versus epistemological criticism 25

    Women and the emergence of modern scholarship in the Romantic Age 31

    3. Women and economics: the outside(r)s of economic discourse 39

    Feminist economics and powerful demarcations: centre versus periphery, mainstream versus heterodoxy 39

    The androcentric bias of the history of economic thought 42

    The androcentric bias of mainstream economics: topics, concepts and methods, code 49

    4. Women and writing: the gendered legacy of genre 64

    Gender, genre, and academic disciplines in the Romantic Age and beyond 64

    The limitations of genre in practice: the example of Jane Austen 72

    Interlude: gender, genres, and knowledge formation today 82


    Women’s economic thought in the Romantic Age 87

    5. Feminist economics of marriage 89

    The legal context: the economic effects of coverture 89

    Marriage as economic risk: Sarah Chapone’s Hardships of the English Laws in Relation to Wives (1735) 101

    Illustrations of the patriarchal economy: Mary Wollstonecraft’s The Wrongs of Woman (1798) 117

    Egalitarian economics of marriage: Mary Hays’s Appeal to the Men of Great Britain in Behalf of Women (1798) and Mary Robinson’s Letter to the Women of England, on the Injustice of Mental Subordination (1799) 139

    Real-life echoes: the testimonies of Charlotte Smith and Nelly Weeton 157

    6. Women and paid work 168

    Women and work around 1800 168

    A conservative demand for women’s right to paid work: Priscilla Wakefield’s Reflections on the Present Condition of the Female Sex (1798) 182

    "Let then the claim to these female occupations be developed": Mary Ann Radcliffe’s The Female Advocate (1799) 203

    7. Moral economics 219

    Revaluing Jane Austen: economic novels versus novel economics 219

    The benefits of balance: Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (1811) 224

    Coda: billing Jane Austen in the 21st century 249

    8. Conclusion: the patriarchal economy 255

    References 269

    Index 284


    Joanna Rostek is Junior Professor of Anglophone Literary, Cultural, and Media Studies at the University of Giessen, Germany. She was a visiting scholar at institutions in Scotland, Poland, and the US and is co-founder of the research network Methodologies of Economic Criticism. She has published extensively on women’s writing and on the relationship between literature, culture, and the economy.

    "In this stimulating study, Rostek adopts the radical premise that women writing about money across a range of genres should be classified as economists. She argues that while the emerging discipline of economics was marginalising the experiences of women as economic subjects, a great flourishing of alternative proto-feminist knowledge formation was taking place elsewhere, in the pages of novels, pamphlets and memoirs. Rostek’s incisive readings allow us to appreciate the intellectual daring of relatively unknown writers such as Sarah Chapone, Priscilla Wakefield and Mary Ann Radcliffe while seeing even the works of Mary Wollstonecraft and Jane Austen anew." — Professor E.J. Clery, English Literature, Uppsala University

    "In this brilliant book, Joanna Rostek not only recovers a fascinating history of women writers as economic thinkers, but also challenges our very understanding of what constitutes ‘the economy’ and its study. A landmark contribution to both literary history and the history of economic thought." — Dr Paul Crosthwaite, Senior Lecturer in English Literature, University of Edinburgh

    Winner of Book Prize of the German Association for the Study of English in 2022. 

    Winner of Suraj Mal and Shyama Devi Agarwal Book Prize awarded by the International Association for Feminist Economics in 2023.